Saved & Fahrenheit

“Acutely perceptive satire,” “Sweet-tempered satire,” “subversively funny, unexpectedly sweet.” These are a few reviewer comments about “Saved,” a very provocative movie.

Ebert’s plotline summary is as good as any: ‘Saved!” is a satire aimed at narrow-minded Christians, using as its weapon the values of a more tolerant brand of Christianity. It is also a high school comedy, starring names from the top shelf of teenage movie

The film follows the traditional pattern of many other teenage comedies. There’s a clique ruled by the snobbiest and most popular girl in school, and an opposition made up of outcasts, nonconformists and rebels¢â‚¬¦What’s different this time is that the teen queen, Hilary Faye, is the loudest Jesus praiser at American Eagle Christian High School, and is played by Moore, having a little fun with her own good-girl image.

Her opposition is a checklist of kids who do not meet with Hilary Faye’s approval. That would include Dean (Chad Faust), who thinks he may be gay; Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the only Jew in school and an outspoken rebel, and Roland (Culkin), Hilary Faye’s brother, who is in a wheelchair but rejects all forms of sympathy and horrifies his sister by becoming Cassandra’s boyfriend. There’s also Patrick (Fugit), member of a Christian skateboarding team and the son of Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), the school’s widowed principal. He’s thoughtful and introspective and isn’t sure he agrees with his father’s complacent morality.

The heroine is Mary (Malone), whose mother Lillian (Parker) has recently been named the town’s No. 1 Christian Interior Decorator. Mary’s boyfriend is Dean (Faust, an interesting name in this context). One day they’re playing a game that involves shouting out secrets to each other while underwater in the swimming pool, and Dean bubbles: “I think I’m gay!” Mary is shocked, bangs her head, thinks she sees Jesus (he’s actually the pool maintenance guy) and realizes it is her mission to save Dean. That would involve having sex with him, she reasons, since only such a drastic act could bring him over to the hetero side. She believes that under the circumstances, Jesus will restore her virginity. Jesus does not, alas, intervene, and Mary soon finds herself staring at the implacable blue line on her home pregnancy kit.”

This film has been embraced by critics and “Christian” reviews have been mixed, with Christianity today online loving it and most others having a reaction tilted negatively. My friend Stefan Ulstein did a wonderful interview with the writer/director.

I think the film does an extraordinary job of exposing hypocrisy. It is “over-the-top” and exaggerated, but that is the nature of satire, and understanding genre is critically important in analyzing art. Where the film fails is where most “secular reviewers” believe it triumphs, namely in its embrace of tolerance. Again Ebert is an example. “”Saved!” is an important film as well as an entertaining one. At a time when the FCC is enforcing a censorious morality on a nation where 8.5 million listeners a day are manifestly not offended by Howard Stern, here is a movie with a political message: Jesus counseled more acceptance and tolerance than some of his followers think. By the end of the movie, mainstream Christian values have not been overthrown, but demonstrated and embraced. Those who think Christianity is just a matter of enforcing their rulebook have been, well, enlightened. And that all of this takes place in a sassy and smart teenage comedy is, well, a miracle. Oh, and mirabile dictu, some of the actors are allowed to have pimples.”

The problem is the imbalance of a keen critical eye towards hypocrisy and a superficial gloss on the issue of “tolerance.” Jesus rescued the woman caught in adultery by challenging the Pharisees to cast the first stone if they were without sin, but then he turned to the woman and said, “sin no more.” Jesus wasn’t just about love; his love was transformative. Remember the Nigelism: “love without truth is romanticism.”

Fahrenheit 9/11. Where to begin? That this is being touted as a documentary reveals our culture’s postmodern drift. The polemic wasn’t even subtle and is just what we should expect from Moore. The problem here is not Moore; he’s delivering what he always has unbalanced, one-sided polemics to fan the flames in the argument culture. The problem is the audience. Conversations I’ve had and have overheard reveal a completely uncritical embrace of Moore’s content and thesis. When I light-heartedly sparred with a Bush-despising woman at the hotel breakfast nook yesterday, her response was “ you don’t get your information by watching the news do you?” To hear her elevate Moore over news was delicious irony in that this was a reversal of the premise of RUSH LIMBAUGH and the Fox Network except this time being touted by the left. Moore would say he is simply doing what the “right” has done (but more blatantly) and the Bush administration better hope the big box office and standing ovations are not indicatory of their November fate.

Personally I think it is a terribly executed, one-sided, emotional slop of half-truths and innuendo and takes it’s place among similar products on the right we should seek the truth, but truth seekers know, it is difficult to find.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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